Saturday, November 1, 2008

Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Eat Veggies By Amy Todisco

Green Living Expert, Amy Todisco

Most of us eat veggies because we know that they are healthy for us, and most of them really taste good. At least we thought they were healthy for us. Well, guess what? A recent University of Minnesota study published in the Journal of Environmental Quality found that antibiotics given to animals could end up in your veggies (gasp!).

Here's the problem:

Raw and/or lightly composted manure is often used as fertilizer on conventional farms. In contrast, manure used on organic farms must be composted or applied at least 90 days before harvest. No such requirements exist on conventional farms.

In the study, researchers found that corn; cabbage and green onions all absorbed the antibiotic, chlortetracycline from the manure fertilizer from pigs that were given the antibiotic. Chlortetracycline is a member of the tetracycline class of antibiotics used in human medicine. It's used to treat upper respiratory tract infections and other illnesses. When humans ingest antibiotics, especially unnecessary ones, it can make bacteria in the intestines become drug resistant. So, if you really needed that antibiotic at some point, it wouldn't be effective. Also, all antibiotics (as I understand it) kill off both the good and bad bacteria in our bodies leaving us more vulnerable to yeast infections, and other health issues. Beyond the immediate effects to our bodies, resistant bacteria created on a farm can contaminate air, water and soil, and travel significant distances.

Did you think antibiotics were just used to treat disease? I did. Apparently they are also fed to animals to make them grow faster and to compensate for overcrowded, unsanitary conditions on industrial scale farms. Not good for the animals, and not good for the consumers of those animals either.

Sadly consumers have no idea that they are consuming antibiotics in their food, there isn't any label requirement to reveal this information. I guess it's just like genetically engineered organisms, pesticides and other toxins in conventional food. That's not to say that it's impossible for antibiotics to appear in organic food too. It would seem unlikely though due to the requirement to compost the manure and apply it 90 days before harvest. But who knows? I'll continue to put my money on the organic stuff, what about you?

P.S. Occasionally I get asked what a person can do who cannot afford organic food. I usually suggest the following: (1) grow it yourself and freeze and can it for the winter. No land? Grow your own in a community garden plot, or in a neighbor's garden (get the soil tested for heavy metals. Call your local extension service for more information). Shop at local farmer's markets (fresher and usually more affordable). Join a community supported agriculture group (perhaps some farmers will barter your share of the harvest for something of value to them). I've heard that big box stores, like Costco's and Big Lots, carry some organic food. So, if you already shop there, choose the organic.

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